Six opening pars gave Padraig the start he needed in the last round of the Open and he never really looked back after that. Bogies on the 7th 8th and 9th gave him some work to do but he finished in style with birdies on the 13th and 15th before the shot of the day at the par five 17th where he hit his second shot close to make an eagle three and give himself a four shot lead down the last. Speaking afterwards he said it was very satisfying to be out in the last group in a major and to perform under pressure. He leaps to number three in the world rankings and is number one on the Ryder Cup team going to Valhalla in September. Padraig continues to impress in the defence of his Open crown as he records a two over par 72 third round in wild and windy conditions. He responded to a dropped shot on the second with a pitch in on the fifth for a birdie and a two on the par three 7th hole where he hit it close. Further dropped shots around the turn where the wind was gusting were rectified with birdies on both the par fives coming home. He is in joint second place two shots behind and tees off in the last group at 2.20pm with Greg Norman. A superb second round of two under par 68 leaves Padraig in a tie for 4th place and only three behind the leader going into the weekend. He got off to a great start with a holed bunker shot on his second hole for a birdie but a wobble around the turn left him at six over par and looking at the cut line. Then the fireworks began with an eagle and two birdies to play the last four holes in four under par and give himself a great chance to defend his precious title. With high winds forecast for Saturdays play Padraigs final words on the matter were "bring it on"! He tees off at 2pm local time with David Duval. Padraig teed up in the first round at his alloted time of 7.58am and returned a highly commendable four over par 74 in the worst of the weather conditions. One under par leads the tournament and it looks like the late starters on Friday will again suffer the worst of the weather! Padraig putted very well to record six bogies and two birdies in the driving wind and rain and his troublesome wrist seems fine. He tees off late Friday at 1.09pm. Padraig is at Royal Birkdale this week to defend his Open Championship crown. Padraig is attempting to emulate Tiger Woods who won back to back championships in 2005/2006 but is being hampered by a wrist injury. He tees off in round one early at 7.58am with Justin Leonard and Retief Goosen.
It has been a quick year! This time last year I was writing this from Carnoustie and then a few days later I was the Open Champion. I am still the Open Champion and I am writing my preview looking forward to defending my crown. It has been a great year for me and I have thoroughly enjoyed being the Open Champion. There have been times where it has been tough and I have done too much, but I certainly wouldn’t change anything. It was my first major and I was determined to enjoy it and I did. I am here at Royal Birkdale for the 2008 Championship; as with the previous majors this year I have stuck to my build up of playing two tournaments before a major. I defended my Irish PGA title last week at the European Club and was very happy with how things went and now I am really looking forward to the Open. All season I have been happy with my game, there is nothing really in my long game that I would change, my putting has given me a few problems this year, but over the last few weeks I have been a lot happier with it. Really I couldn’t have been happier with how things were going in terms of being ready for this week.
However you can never plan for the unexpected, as I injured my wrist on Saturday evening doing some practice. I was swinging into an impact bag, something that I have done thousands of times over the years with no problem, and felt a little twinge. On Sunday I wasn’t able to hit any shots but I wasn’t too worried about it as I was coming over to Birkdale and would have a chance to get my Physio, Dale Richardson, to have a look at it. I received treatment on Sunday evening and decided that I would give it a rest on Monday and not play; instead I did some chipping and putting and get more treatment.
After more sessions of treatment on Monday and then on Tuesday morning, I decided that I would hit some balls and see how it faired and if it went well then I would play in the afternoon. I warmed up and it felt fine. Before I went out I had it looked at again and everything was fine. I had arranged to play a practice round with Damien Magrane at noon, so I headed out feeling good. I played the front nine and didn’t really have any problems. It felt a bit fuzzy but nothing too bad, at least there was no pain. After nine holes I went in to get it looked at again; at this stage Dale reckoned it had weakened a bit and that it would be best not to play on. So instead I walked the back nine with Damien and Woody Austin and just hit some chip shots and putts. I would have liked to play on but I felt that there was no point in risking doing any damage. After I walked the back nine holes I went in and got some more treatment. The plan was to do exactly the same on Wednesday, get some treatment in the morning and then go and warm up and then play the course.
My warm up went well on Wednesday morning and everything felt great; no pain in the wrist and I was happy with how I was hitting the ball. I decided that I would play the back nine as I had only played the front nine on Tuesday. However, when I hit my second shot into 10 I got a darting pain in my wrist; at this stage I went back in to get Dale to have a look at it and see what he thought. He treated it again and strapped it up and told me to try and play again but when I got back out and hit my tee shot on 10 it was the same thing. So I decided against playing on and instead walked the course watching others play and did some chipping and putting again.
Therefore it really hasn’t been the build up to my defense that I would have wished for but it is what it is. I have been followed around the course for two days by an army of journalists, all of them waiting for the latest update on whether I will be fit to tee it up on Thursday. At the moment I am 75% certain that I will be playing on Thursday. My plan is to warm up as normal and see how it fairs. I would hate to have to pull out and not get the chance to defend my title but obviously I have to be careful as well. I would love to be able to give you all a more definite insight into it and say that it will be fine in the morning but I can’t be that sure until Thursday morning.
As far as the course is concerned it is in great condition. The only pity for me is that I haven’t had a chance to play it in full and get a good look at it. I have played nine holes and walked 27; it really couldn’t be in better condition. It has been playing very tough as the wind has been blowing quite strong since Monday; there are a lot of holes that have been playing a lot tougher than their par from what I have seen. In terms of my game and how I am feeling about it I am very happy; the nine holes that I played on Tuesday, I was very happy with and my routines were coming on very nicely last week in the European Club.
For now it is all down to how my wrist is on Thursday morning and whether it can hold up for the week. I am hopeful that it will be fine and that I won’t feel anything in it; I would like to have done more in my preparation but there is nothing that I can do about it now. Maybe it will stand me in good stead that I didn’t tire myself out in practice. We will just have to wait and see. For now it is fingers crossed and hopefully it will be fine.
Little did I think when I was writing my preview last Wednesday that I would be sitting here today writing about how I won the Open Championship for a second time. Last Wednesday I was only thinking whether I was able to play let alone winning the Championship. I was so worried about my wrist after aborting my practice round on Wednesday that I was genuinely worried about my participation. This was in stark contrast to how I was feeling after winning the Irish PGA; I was confident about where my game was and how I was feeling and was really looking forward to the Open. It certainly wasn’t the preparation that I was looking for, especially as it was a course that I didn’t know that well so only getting to play nine holes in practise was definitely a disadvantage.
On Thursday morning I was a little nervous and apprehensive as I didn’t know what to expect when I got to the range. I had thought about every scenario and as usual I tended to put a negative spin in my head. I took a couple of pain killers and started my warm up. It was a little funny to start with but once the pain killer kicked in there was no problem. I was able to hit without any pain which was great; now the only question I had left was how it was going to stand up to the rough, but of course my caddie, Ronan, told me it would fine if I didn’t hit it in the rough all day!
It was miserable morning weather wise, cold, wet and windy; very similar to the first day at the Irish PGA. My first tee shot put paid to the idea of not hitting it in the heavy rough as I pushed it right straight into it. At least I was going to find out quickly how it would stand up to the rough, but gladly there was no problem. From here on I thought very little about my wrist, it was just a case of trying to grind out a score. The first few holes were really a struggle; I bogeyed the first and had to hole good putts on the next two for pars before bogeying the fourth. The big problem with the conditions was that there was no easy hole and so it was hard to see where you were going to get shots back. Luckily I stiffed my second shot to the fifth which settled me down. The weather stayed consistently bad for us. I managed to turn in one over and get myself to the 17th tee at two over which I was very happy with as both the 17th and 18th were playing down wind. I was thinking to myself that I could finish one over for the round quite easily. However as normally happens when you get ahead of yourself it all went wrong. I finished bogey, bogey to end up shooting four over; I was so annoyed as I knew that I had thrown away a good score. In the end I finished up five behind but well down the field as the weather improved dramatically in the afternoon. My wrist was a little sore in the evening once the pain killer wore off but nothing too bad.
When I got to the tee on Friday the clouds rolled in and the wind was blowing heavily, I thought that we were in for the same sort of weather as we had on Thursday. Luckily it blew over quickly and we ended up having relatively good conditions. I played nicely through the front nine, making one birdie and one bogey to turn in level par but then two bogeys to start the back nine pushed me to six over for the tournament. Looking back on it now one of the most important moments of my Open was on the 13th green in this round. I had to hole a four footer across the hill and down wind to remain at 6 over for the tournament. If I had missed it I would have reverted to thinking about the cut mark instead of thinking about getting myself into contention. I holed it and never really looked back; I went onto have a grandstand finish to get myself into a great position. I played the last four holes in four under, with birdie on the 15th, par on 16, eagle on 17 and then a birdie on the last to leave me on two over for the tournament and right in the mix.
All week the forecast had said that Saturday was going to be the windiest day of them all with gusts of up to 50 mph; and when I looked out I could see that they had got it right. By the time I got to the first tee I knew that it was really a day for patience and just trying to dig in and grind out a score. I played very well through the front nine again, making two birdies and two bogeys to turn in level par. I bogeyed the 11th by three putting and then on the 12th I caught a big gust when I hit my tee shot and it sent it flying over the green into the hay; from here I got it on the green and then three putted again but this time for a double bogey. I was walking off the next tee box when a guy told me it was fine as he had to go back to being a plumber on Monday! From here I made two more birdies, both on the par fives, and one bogey to end up finishing with a two over par round for a total of four over. It left me two shots behind Greg Norman but more importantly it meant that I would play in the final group of a Major for the first time. This was exactly where I wanted to be, in with a chance to win the tournament. I couldn’t ask for more.
The final day arrived and for the first time I would be in the last group on a Sunday of a Major. It was hard to know what to expect, I knew it would be tough to stay focused and do my own thing as we were the last group. Also there was a huge amount of media focus on the group because it was Greg Norman and I. Greg was getting most of the attention thankfully, but as defending champion I was getting my fair share. One of the things that will stick with me forever was the noise when I walked to the first tee. Greg had got there before me and had gotten a huge welcome, one I didn’t think was possible to beat, but as ever I under estimated the Irish crowd. It was like a Ryder Cup the noise was so loud, it was brilliant. All week the crowd was amazing but on Sunday it went to a new level. It was similar conditions all week and Sunday was no different, only a little warmer. I hit a good tee shot which I was happy with as I was nervous; it finished in the semi rough which was fine. My second shot came up short and left me with a 20 yard chip shot, not what you want on the first hole but I played it very well and knocked it stone dead. I parred the first six holes, some were after holing good putts and some were after missing birdie chances. I was feeling very comfortable, probably a bit too comfortable as I didn’t quite commit to my tee shot on the 7th and as a result I missed the green left and made my first bogey. The problem was it started a bad run for me; I bogeyed the next two holes also to turn at 7 over par. I had no idea of what anyone else bar Norman was doing as I didn’t look at any leader boards. I felt that someone must have been kicking on and that I needed to get my finger out. The tenth was a pivotal hole really as I had to hole a four footer for par to stop the run of bogeys. It was tough putt as there was a big break and the wind was blowing hard; I holed it and from here on I just kept going and doing my own thing. I parred the 11th and 12th and then made my first birdie of the round on the 13th after hitting a 5 iron to 15 feet. I still hadn’t looked at any leader boards and wasn’t sure where I stood; I just kept playing my own game and trying not to look around me. A par on the 14th left me 6 over with four to play, two of which were par fives. A good drive on the 15th meant that I was in range in two; it was a tough shot as the wind was blowing strongly across the hole and so it meant that I had to start my second shot over the gorse to get it on the green. I hit a majestic three wood out over the gorse and it drifted back on to the green to set up a two putt birdie. After an easy par on the 16th I felt that I was doing fine at this stage, probably leading but not entirely sure. I hit five wood off the 17th tee as I had done twice during the week; it left me 272 yards to the pin. It was perfect for a five wood again, especially as it probably my favourite club and even more so under pressure. When I suggested five wood Ronan explained that I had other options, I could lay it up and play a for a pitch and putt; I knew what he was really telling me. I was obviously leading, I asked him was I three ahead and when he responded that I was two I was happy to go for the green as I felt that Norman could still make a charge from where he was. As it turns out I probably hit one of my best five woods ever and the rest is history. It set up a short putt for eagle and the most comfortable walk down the last hole I could have imagined. This was uncharted territory for me as I don’t normally make it this easy. I am normally sweating over a four footer not having a casual walk down the last and five putts to win!
It was an amazing feeling, totally different to the emotion of last year. I was able to enjoy this one! I felt after winning last year that I would win more majors, but I didn’t really think that it would be this quick.
I had a charity commitment on Monday in London which meant that I couldn’t get home until late Monday night. Once I landed it was straight to the Sporting Emporium to celebrate with my family and friends. It was a great night, one I will never forget; I only hope there will be many more. For the rest of the week it is a case of taking it easy and enjoying the fact that I am still the “Champion Golfer of the Year” as it is back to normal next Monday.
What a week, what a year; it is only really sinking in now!! Thanks to everyone for all the support both at home and in Birkdale!